Akanidi The Bright Sunbeam
A Siberian Tale
The Sun has many children: his eldest son Peivalke, the four Winds, the Storm Cloud twins, Lightning, Thunder and Tempest. But most of all the Sun loves his three daughters: Golden Sunshine, Misty Shadow and his youngest daughter Bright Sunbeam.
The Sun's daughters live proud and free chasing wild reindeer over the tundra, dancing in woodland glades, flitting like silver fish in Lake Seityavr and resting on its broad banks.
One day, the three sisters spied a birch-bark boat come gliding across the lake; and in the boat was a fisherman casting his nets into the water. Half the lake fish seemed to seize the nets so that it would surely take five strong men to pull them out; yet the young fisherman took hold of one end of the nets, strung it over his shoulder and hauled it easily into the boat.
The sisters followed the fisherman's movements and hid among the trees. When he had brought his boat ashore, hung up his nets to dry and eaten his fill of the fish, he fell asleep by the lakeside.
Thereupon the eldest sister, Golden Sunshine, stamped her foot. "He shall be mine," she said. "Do you hear me, my sisters? From now on this fisherman will serve only me."
With that she tore off the fur hem of her long golden robe and drew it across the sleeping man's face, leaving a mark of gold upon his brow. So deep were his slumbers, however, that he did not feel a thing.
The second sister, Misty Shadow, gave a defiant laugh. "Not so hasty, my sister," she cried. "Let him sleep on. When he awakes he will decide for himself."
The third sister, Bright Sunbeam, was silent. At that moment, their father the Sun wearied of riding his boat sledge across the sky and sank down beyond the sea to rest. At once it grew dark and evening came. Off ran Bright Sunbeam to catch up with her father.
Misty Shadow meanwhile spread a soft pale-blue quilt upon the bank, stretched out her transparent arms to the fisherman, breathed a cool breeze upon him and lulled him with her vapid song. Throughout the lonely night she sang, and the fisherman's hands and feet were numbed by cold, his bones chilled and his heart frozen.
Once again, Misty Shadow laughed: "What say you now, sister? Whom shall he serve?"
"He shall still be mine," persisted Golden Sunshine. "No man on earth can refuse me. Let him but gaze upon my golden form when dawn comes. "
Dawn did come, the Sun rose in the heavens and in his wake came his youngest daughter rushing to the lake; she threw back the damp quilt from the bank and caressed the fisherman with her warm bright gaze. And the longer she looked, the warmer his heart grew, fresh life spread into his frozen hands and feet. He opened his eyes and beheld a round and rosy girlish face bending over him, breathing warmth into his body. The girl was dressed in a long smock of silken strands and on her feet she wore scarlet boots.
Stretching out his arms to her, the fisherman exclaimed: "Who are you, lovely maiden, so like the Sun's daughter?"
"But I am the Sun's daughter," answered Bright Sunbeam.
He was much surprised at this and not a little sad.
"Why do you gaze at me so?" he asked. "Why do you warm my heart so with your bright eyes? Would you really love a poor mortal like me and live in a dark hut?"
Without a word, she took the fisherman by the hand and they walked together along the shore until they came to his hut. After them rushed Misty Shadow dipping first to the right, then to the left, and snapping at their heels. After them, too, dashed Golden Sunshine tearing off the entire hem of her robe and scattering its golden grains upon their backs.
Yet the fisherman and the Sun's youngest daughter saw nothing as they entered the hut. So furious were the two elder sisters that they quite forgot their own quarrel and ran to the Sun to complain.
"Your youngest daughter has betrayed you, Father," they said. "She has wed a poor fisherman; punish her severely and make that fisherman serve us."
In his anguish at losing his youngest, dearest daughter, the Sun wrapped himself in a storm cloud and rained his tears upon the ground. After a while, he said: "I am very sad for Bright Sunbeam; the fate she has chosen is not a happy one. She will know some joy but much grief. Let her set aside her golden robes and forget she ever was my daughter."
The Sun fell silent, wiped away his tears and then his fiery gaze settled on his two eldest daughters.
"As for you," he said angrily, "why should you be any better? You came running to tell tales. So hear my word: no longer will you run freely about the land. You, Misty Shadow, shall sit in the forest marshes guarding my underground waters; while you, Golden Sunshine, shall stand above the stone mountain guarding my underground treasures. And do not dare lay a finger on Bright Sunbeam or her husband; or I shall punish you even more severely."
So saying the Sun enveloped himself once more in the clouds. And the sisters went their separate ways: one to the marshes by Black Varaka, the other to the top of the stone mountain. But fury at their youngest sister smoldered within them.
Meanwhile, Bright Sunbeam put aside her smock of silken strands, took off her scarlet boots, placed her sun's garments in a chest and put on simple clothing. She began to help her husband catch fish, she would dry them over a fire and cure them in the sun, she learned to make a fire and cook food, scrape reindeer hides and sew warm clothing from them. Her hands were busy all day long, yet her tender eyes always shone brightly and her round face smiled warmly. It was therefore always light and warm in the fisherman's hut even when the hearth was unlit and the Sun did not shine. And when a daughter was born to Bright Sunbeam, the hut became even brighter: so much alike were mother and daughter. So the fisherman named the little girl Akanidi after her mother. When little Akanidi was as tall as her father's knee the fisherman said to his wife:
"In the marsh by Black Varaka there is some splendid birch bark; it will make good, stout boots. Tonight I'll go to strip the bark by the light of the moon."
Bright Sunbeam begged him not to go, sensing some evil lurked in the dark forest swamp. Although she was now a simple Saami woman and no longer the Sun's daughter, she still knew much that ordinary folk were ignorant of. But the poor fisherman did not heed his wife's warning; he sharpened his knife, put some provisions together and, as evening drew on, set out for Black Varaka.
It was a cheerless spot, tenanted by evil spirits. The trunks of birch trees were twisted into spiral rings creeping across the ground like serpents. Truth to tell, the fisherman greatly feared the place.
He singled out a tall birch with smooth white bark inscribed with deep circles; he then took out his knife and was about to cut the bark when, to his horror, he saw an eye staring out at him, an eye of darkest blue. And out of the tree trunk came two pallid arms reaching for him. A hoarse laugh shattered the eerie stillness .
"Ah-ha my proud fisherman, now I've got you in my clutches and you shall at last be my husband."
Springing quickly back, he thought he must be dreaming; the eye and arms had vanished. All the same, that tree was best left alone and he started on another. But just as he put his knife to the bark, again a dark-blue eye stared out at him, pallid arms stretched to grasp his neck and a hoarse voice whispered in his ear: "Fisherman, you will wed me."
"Whoever you are," he stuttered, "let me be. I cannot marry you: I have a wife and daughter at home."
Thereupon Misty Shadow stepped from behind the tree, her plaits of wood-smoke blue trailing upon the ground, her deep- blue eyes boring into his very soul. She waved her wispy sleeve and asked: "Am I not comely? Have I not my own dear children -- my daughter Keen-Eyes, my sons Burning Stump and Mossy Clump? You'll be father to them and feed us all?" Hardly were the words out of her mouth than Keen-Eyes sprang on to the fisherman's chest, Burning Stump clung to his right leg and Mossy Clump to his left.
No matter how hard he tried to tear himself free, he could not move from the spot.
"How will I feed you? Where will I put you all?" the fisherman cried. "My hut is cramped as it is."
"Then leave your wife, I'll take her place," said Misty Shadow. "And you will feed me. You'll build a new hut for us all."
Finally Misty Shadow got the better of the poor fisherman; he set to cutting down trees, lopping off their branches and putting up a new log hut. He blocked up all the cracks with mud and clay so that, as Misty Shadow ordered, the Sun should not peep in; she was much afraid of the fury of her father. When he had finished, she said: "Now go and catch some fish for we are hungry."
Off went the poor fisherman to his first home by the lake and told the dismal story to his wife.
"You did not heed my warning," she said sadly. "You went at night to Black Varaka. Now we must both serve my evil sister, Misty Shadow. There's nothing for it. Come, let us catch some fish."
They caught some fish, cooked a whole potful and the fisherman took it to the swamp. Hardly had he entered the hut than the children set about the food, cramming their mouths full and crunching the fish bones. When the pot was empty, they cried, "More, more?", while their mother complained that she had not even tasted any.
Once more the fisherman and his wife went fishing and cooked fish broth. Together they carried two potfuls to the hut in the swamp. The children ate their fill, then burrowed under the damp moss and went to sleep. Their mother too ate her fill before creeping into a dark corner to sleep, beckoning the fisherman to follow. She embraced him with her clammy arms and licked his face and head with her slimy tongue. As she did so, the hair began to fall from his head.
So it continued: every day the poor fisherman and his wife did the fishing, cooked two potfuls of broth and fed Misty Shadow and her young. There remained nothing to eat save mushrooms and cloudberries which their daughter Akanidi brought them from the forest. So poorly did they eat that they soon began to wither and waste away. Bright Sunbeam's lovely round face became old and wrinkled, her back bent, her bright eyes dim. The fisherman was soon a gaunt, dried-up figure with no hair on his head.
One day, up in the sky, the Sun said to his son Peivalke: "Fly down to the lake, my son; see how Bright Sunbeam is living with her husband the fisherman."
So Peivalke flew down to earth, circled the lake by the lakeside paths, searched among the marshes and returned to his father.
"Nowhere did I see Bright Sunbeam," he reported. "All I saw was an old man and woman carrying potfuls of fish broth to Black Varaka in the forest swamp. A log hut stands in that swamp; who lives there I do not know, for all the cracks and holes are blocked with slime."
The Sun soon guessed what had happened. So he sent his son the Tempest to Black Varaka to sweep away the hut with all its mud and twigs. As her young dived deep into the mire, Misty Shadow hovered above the hummock trembling with fear.
The Sun stared at her hard, and under his fiery gaze her long plaits faded away, her arms turned into toad's feet, her deep-blue eyes became puffed and dull; all that remained of her was belly and bulging head.
"Is that how you did as I ordered?" the Sun finally said. "You are no daughter of mine; from now on you will be the old marsh witch Oadz who lives by her cunning and treachery. Let all the world see your black soul, let them fear you and let all living creatures hide from you."
The Sun climbed high into the heavens, leaving ugly Oadz to sit on her hummock brooding in gloomy silence. Just then the fisherman and Bright Sunbeam came into view with their potful of broth.
"Broo, broo, broo," croaked Oadz. "Take pity on me, my dears."
When the fisherman looked upon the marsh witch, he stumbled over in horror spilling the broth and dropping the pot into the swamp. At once Bright Sunbeam grabbed his hand and tugged him quickly away from Black Varaka without a backward glance.
Once again they began to live in their old home by the lake; they caught fish and brought them home, Akanidi dried their nets, kindled the fire on the hearth, cooked fish soup and helped her father and mother. She was now full-grown.
One day the fisherman came home and told his wife: "Look, I found this golden pebble on the shore. See how it glitters."
Bright Sunbeam looked at the pebble and recognized at once a piece of the robe of her eldest sister Golden Sunshine.
"Cast it into the deepest part of the lake," she told her husband. "It will bring us nothing but evil."
She knew so very much, that wise woman.
But the fisherman did not obey his wife.
"I shall certainly not throw gold back into the lake," he said, aghast. "Do you know what people will give for it? A whole herd of reindeer! A new net and pots! I'd best return and look for more."
So he went back to the lakeside and searched among the sand and pebbles. And he found a few more pieces, then more and more until he had a whole potful of golden nuggets. All the while he was wandering farther and farther along the bank unable to stop himself, such was the greed that now possessed him. All day he toiled, and by evening the pieces of gold had brought him to a stone mountain that barred his path.
Instead of turning for home, he continued his search, picking out pieces of gold wherever they glittered on the mountainside. He began to strike the wall of the mountain with his knife, once, twice, three times and then, all of a sudden, the wall opened up before him. And there stood a beautiful maiden dressed in a golden robe with ruby slippers upon her feet, her green eyes sparkling like emeralds.
"I knew you would come to serve me, fisherman," she said. "See, my mark is still upon your brow; it took possession of your mind and guided your steps here. See how much gold I have!"
She swept her golden arm in a wide circle showing him the golden seams in the rock, a pick and tray for washing gold, and a stream winding through the valley. In a daze the fisherman snatched up the pick and started digging at the rock. He soon filled a whole tray, washed water through it and was overjoyed to see so much gold glittering at the bottom of his pan.
Once more he took up the pick, again split the rocks, washed the pebbles and grains in his pan and piled up his store of gold. So busy was he that he did not notice the stone mountain closing, he did not see that the light of the heavens had grown dim, that dark storm clouds hung above him. Suddenly Golden Sunlight stood over his bent form, her green eyes flashing.
"Work, old man," she commanded. "Work on and on and do not stop."
He needed no second bidding. The pile of gold grew higher than his head, yet still it was not enough. He raised and flung down his pick like a man possessed. But his former strength was ebbing away: his hands trembled, his legs creaked and he began to rock drunkenly on his feet. No longer did the rocks fly up from under his pick, only orange and silver sparks flew in all directions. At last he set his pick aside, his fingers numb, his spirit dead.
"What are you doing?" screamed Golden Sunshine. "You came to serve me, so get on and serve."
"My strength is spent," he gasped. "Let me rest awhile and I'll recover enough strength to carry the gold away with me."
Golden Sunshine stamped her foot so hard the sound rang all around the underground caverns. "No one has yet taken gold from here," she cried. "Just look about you." And she made a wide sweep with her arm.
As the fisherman glanced about him, wherever his gaze settled he saw great seams of gold shining and beside them lay piles of human bones.
In the meantime, by the lake on the outside of the stone mountain, Bright Sunbeam waited two whole days for her husband. On the third she told her daughter: "Your father did not listen to me, Akanidi. Clearly he is in trouble once more. I must go and help him. Either I shall save him or perish myself. If I do not return by tomorrow, open my wooden chest and take out my robe and boots. Cast off your walrus-hide smock and put on my silken dress; cast off your reindeer-skin stockings and put on my scarlet fur boots. Go in that attire to the top of the stone mountain and light a fire from dry grass; then take my finger and throw it into the fire."
Thereupon Bright Sunbeam broke off the little finger of her left hand and gave it to her daughter.
"All that will remain in the fire will be a white bone. Place that bone under your left heel in the scarlet boot. Peivalke, eldest son of the Sun, will come flying down to you and ask who you are. Tell him nothing. But ask simply to be taken to his father."
So said Bright Sunbeam, and she bade farewell to Akanidi and set off along the lakeside path towards the stone mountain.
All through the day and the night Akanidi waited for her mother, all the while straining her eyes for a glimpse of her return. But Bright Sunbeam did not come back. So at the end of the night, the girl opened the wooden chest, took out her mother's clothes and put them on. They all fitted her perfectly -- the brilliant robe and the scarlet boots. Then off she went along the same path that her mother had taken towards the stone mountain. Finally, she arrived at the mountain-top and lit a fire. She placed her mother's little finger in the fire and, when all that remained was a white bone, she put it under her left heel.
In an instant, Peivalke, the Sun's first son, flew down to see who had lit a fire on the bare mountain-top. When he saw Akanidi, he was full of joy.
"Is it really you, my little sister Bright Sunbeam?" he said. "Where have you been all this time?"
Akanidi said not a word. Then, after several moments, she asked simply: "Take me with you when you fly to the Sun."
"But, dear sister, have you forgotten how to fly?" he asked, surprised.
Akanidi was silent.
So Peivalke took the girl by the hand, held her tight and flew over the land straight to his father. "See, Father," he said, "here is your youngest daughter, Bright Sunbeam."
The Sun stared at Akanidi and shook his head. "Who are you, girl?" he asked, "so much alike to Bright Sunbeam?"
"I am Akanidi," she replied, "only daughter to Bright Sunbeam. My mother departed to the stone mountain to find my father and got lost. Before leaving she instructed me to put on her robe and boots and bring you all that remains of her."
With that Akanidi removed her left boot, took the bone and handed it to the Sun. He looked fondly upon the little white bone of his dear daughter and guessed that she was no longer alive. In his great sorrow he wept and called to his children: the four Winds, the Storm Cloud twins, Lightning, Thunder and Tempest. Then the four Winds roared, the Storm Clouds darkened the sky, Thunder crashed and boomed, Tempest lashed the earth and with his fiery horns Lightning flashed and split the stone mountain in two. There stood Golden Sunshine transfixed in terror and surrounded by piles of human bones.
The Sun stared long and hard at his eldest daughter. Under his angry gaze her golden dress melted, her ruby boots became mere goat hoofs, her backbone twisted into a hump, her lovely head sank into her shoulders and her whole body grew over with black fur.
"Is that how you did as I ordered?" the Sun asked her, finally. "You are no daughter of mine. From this day you will be the underground witch Vagahe, foul and horrid. May everyone know your black soul, may everyone fear and flee from you."
"And you, Akanidi, will stay with me, be my Bright Sunbeam, my sweet and gentle daughter. I shall teach you to fly and to breathe life into all that lives."
Thus spoke the Sun before riding off in his coach across the sky. After him hastened his son Peivalke and the bright maiden Akanidi. Meanwhile, Vagahe stamped her hoofs in a fury, so that the earth quaked and the mountain above her slammed shut.
When did this happen, you ask? A long time ago; so long ago that folk no longer remember. All they know is that ever since the wicked Vagahe has roamed the earth in search of her victims. Folk flee before her; for should she catch them, she would carry them off to toil inside her stone mountain.
And down in the slime of the forest swamp dwells the black-hearted witch Oadz, just as the Sun commanded. By night you may hear her sing to lead astray the passing wayfarer. Whoever draws near is seized in her toad's paws and dragged into the mud. During the day the old marsh witch hides beneath the slime afraid of the Sun, afraid of youthful Peivalke and, most of all, afraid of the brilliant gaze of the lovely Akanidi.
Should you look carefully through the branches of the trees, you may well see the pretty round face of a maid and feel the warmth of her sweet breath. That is Akanidi, the Bright Sunbeam; it is her robe that shines with its silken strands, it is her scarlet boots that sprinkle the earth with such bright berries. With her laughing eyes, she looks down upon the earth; and she loves all that lives, takes pity on all creatures and keeps them warm.
This page was created by Richard Darsie for his Tales of Wonder Page.
The tales from Siberia are taken from The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon: Siberian Folk Tales, collected and translated by James Riordan. New York: Interlink Books, 1991.